BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. The on line magazine Slate made its debut in June of 1996. It was Microsoft's entry into the field of 'zines and might have been a big story anyway, but the real reason people paid attention was because of the man Bill Gates put in charge -Michael Kinsley - a liberal intellectual of highest regard whose sharp observations graced the pages of Time, the Washington Post and The New Republic whose nasal witticisms resounded on Crossfire. That was a great "get" for Gates. But Kinsley is stepping down as editor of Slate after more than 6 years. That's about 35 in web years, isn't it Michael?
MICHAEL KINSLEY: At least.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] The editors of two zines --Sacca.com [sp?] and Feed.com [sp?] both said when you started that you wouldn't be innovating. You would just be re-inventing the wheel.
MICHAEL KINSLEY: We were trying to do the equivalent of print journalism on the web in the sense that we wanted it to be respectable and we wanted it to have the integrity and accuracy of print. But I think we did innovate in many ways in trying to figure out ways to use the technology to serve journalism, and basically to compensate people for the fact that they have to sit and read it on a computer screen. In fact, that problem is one we have never solved, specifically the problem of publishing long New Yorker/Atlantic-type pieces on the web, and it just may well be that that's a type of journalism that is not suitable to the web.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well talk about that. How do you get big ideas in shorter packages?
MICHAEL KINSLEY:Well the, the thing we've done most successfully I think is adapt the voice of e-mail which is a, really a new medium and is one that many people find extremely good for discussing ideas, because it has the spontaneity of talking with the reflectiveness of writing, and we have dialogues, we have diaries, we have dispatches -- we even do our back reviews that way.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:What about the audio/video aspect of the net. Was it everything it was cracked up to be? I remember in your first issue of Slate you had Fats Waller singing; you had Seamus Heaney [sp?] reading some poetry. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
MICHAEL KINSLEY: And you made fun of us for that on NPR, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] I made fun of Seamus Heaney, maybe a little.
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Yeah, Fats Waller is sacred, but Seamus Heaney's fair game. Right. One of the things we have failed to do and everyone else has failed too is use multimedia in ways that are more than just a gimmick. In cultural criticism I think is the best opportunity but we haven't developed critics and a critical voice where people use the clips the way you use quotes in a book review really as an integrated part of your argument. If you think about it, a music review spends huge numbers of words in the basically impossible task of trying to describe music and words, and then the writer makes his or her point. On the Internet, you don't have to describe the music; you can quote it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You have said that one of your goals was to make Slate self-sufficient. It's done really well. It has more than 2 million unique users in a month according to Media Metrics.
MICHAEL KINSLEY: 2.8 million in January. Just got the numbers the other day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But you haven't made it break even yet, and I think you've described yourself as kind of Moses leading them across the desert but never quite making it to the Promised Land.
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Well first of all I'm sorry I said that about Moses. I think we will get there slightly slower than I expected.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now Slate made the bold experiment of charging for subscriptions, and after years of trying you never really penetrated enough to make that viable, and so now you've gone back to the ad model. Do you think it's the ad model that ultimately will work for on line journalism?
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Yes, I think the ad model is the most promising one for us. We had 30,000 subscribers which was not terrible at the end of the first year, but meanwhile we had a front porch as we called it - a, a free space - that was getting 400,000 subscribers. And now of course we have 2, 3, 4 million --visitors, not subscribers. So it seemed to us that selling ads that would be seen by millions of people was a more likely route to a self-sustaining financial situation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So why are you stepping down?
MICHAEL KINSLEY:I was starting to get a little stale, I felt, so I thought for myself and for Slate it's time to let someone else do it. And also I have Parkinson's, and that was a small factor. I'm certainly capable of doing this job or any other one I want, but-- it'll be nice to have more time to exercise and lead a more regular life which helps control the symptoms.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Colleagues have been saying in the papers that no one would be able to tell that you had Parkinson's since, I guess, '93. The hiking, the winter sports. You've said in the papers that it's not so much health that you're worried about as time.
MICHAEL KINSLEY: I don't think it's quite true that you can't tell. But most of the time it's hard to tell certainly, and it doesn't really impact my life very much. And I want to use the time to do things which I can certainly do now and -but I might not be able to do in future years.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thanks a lot, Michael.
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Hey, thank you Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michael Kinsley is the former editor of Slate.com. [MUSIC]